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Morning Brief

Could Trump Be Charged With Bribery?

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testifies again as Democrats appear to narrow their focus in the impeachment investigation.

Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer look on at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 12.
Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer look on at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 12. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The public impeachment hearings continue today with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Chile’s economy could soon feel the effects of ongoing protests, and North Korea rejects year-end nuclear talks with the United States.

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Pelosi Alleges Bribery as Public Hearings Continue in Washington

Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify in public today in the impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump. In her closed-door testimony last month, Yovanovitch said she felt threatened by the administration before she was recalled from Ukraine in May, as FP’s Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon reported then. Yovanovitch was later blasted by Trump in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but her early dismissal means she wasn’t around during the key allegations.

Meanwhile, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday alleged that Trump committed bribery by withholding military aid from Ukraine while pushing for an investigation into his domestic political rivals. While Pelosi said that Democrats had not yet decided on whether to impeach Trump, the accusation suggests that they are focusing on more specific charges as they complete the initial inquiry over the next few weeks.

Corroboration? On Wednesday, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, first described a July 26 call between Trump and ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in which Trump discussed wanting Ukrainian officials to pursue “investigations.” There were two embassy staffers who witnessed the conversation, the Associated Press reports. One, David Holmes, will testify in a closed-door session today.

Still divided. Amid the public hearings, lawmakers in both parties have stuck to their respective corners, with little sign from Republicans that the testimony will shape their votes on impeachment. The U.S. public remains deeply divided, too—something that Pelosi acknowledged. “Impeaching is a divisive thing in our country—it’s hard,” she said.

What We’re Following Today

Chile’s protests flare again, peso drops. On Thursday, demonstrators took to the streets in Chile on the anniversary of the death of a young indigenous man killed by police under suspicious circumstances; the case is still under investigation. Since the unrest began four weeks ago over subway fares, Chile’s police have been criticized by protesters and medical experts alike. At least 24 people have died, and over 200 have suffered eye injuries from projectiles. Chile’s new finance minister is concerned about the economy: As the peso hit a historic low on Thursday, he said fuel costs and unemployment are likely to rise.

North Korea says no to talks. North Korea announced Thursday that it had rejected a U.S. offer to hold another round of nuclear talks in December as the year-end deadline for the United States to change its tack—a date set by Pyongyang—approaches. U.S. and North Korean negotiators met last month in Sweden, but the talks broke down. North Korea again seems to be putting pressure on the United States to stop joint military drills with South Korea, as U.S. defense officials are in Seoul for annual meetings.

[In FP, Ankit Panda argues that it’s not only joint exercises with Seoul that worry Pyongyang. Deploying new U.S. missiles—that were previously banned under the INF treaty—in Asia could raise the risk of the North Korean nuclear threat.]

Xi still supports Hong Kong’s leader. As tension rises between Hong Kong’s police and student activists barricaded inside university campuses, Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated mainland support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, saying that the priority was to stop the violence. China has accused Western countries of foreign interference. Meanwhile, U.S. senators are seeking to quickly pass legislation that would scrutinize Hong Kong’s special treatment by the United States and impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials.

Keep an Eye On

Sri Lanka’s election. Sri Lankans vote in a crucial presidential election on Saturday, nearly seven months after a devastating terror attack that has been followed by months of political infighting. The two frontrunners, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa come from powerful families. Rajapaksa, the brother of a former president, is considered the frontrunner but Premadasa is gaining steam. Many fear that human rights would suffer under Rajapaksa, given that his brother’s government—in which he served as defense chief—has been accused of war crimes in the country’s war against Tamil rebels. He is also fighting cases in U.S. courts related to the murder of a newspaper editor and the torture of a Tamil prisoner.

The next Lebanese prime minister. Several political parties in Lebanon have agreed to nominate Mohammed Safadi, a former finance minister, as the country’s next prime minister after Saad al-Hariri stepped down amid protests. Lebanese protesters, who have railed against ruling elites, are not likely to be satisfied. Local media reported that the new government would be made up of both politicians and technocrats.

Required vaccines in Germany. From March, all German parents will be required by law to vaccinate their children against measles or else be fined several thousand euros. The law, passed on Thursday, is intended to stop the return of the disease after years of decline in developed countries around the world as parents refuse to vaccinate. 

Brazil’s Amazon defenders. Earlier this month, suspected illegal loggers shot and killed an environmental defender in northeastern Brazil, where deforestation is rampant. The “forest guardians” have long been under threat, but the situation has only worsened under President Jair Bolsonaro, César Muñoz Acebes writes for FP.

Odds and Ends

At the White House on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly returned a letter sent last month by U.S. President Donald Trump urging the Turkish leader to not be a “tough guy” or a “fool,” as Turkey began a military offensive in northern Syria. Turkish media had previously reported that Erdogan had made a point to throw the letter away.

That’s it for today. 

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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